Mellow Yellow

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Everyone is allowed to ride you…

Hopping on and off as we please, you don’t seem to mind.
Whether we consider ourselves part of the mass or have decided to part with it, you don’t differentiate. In the wagon of the underground everyone is a commuter – a traveler heading somewhere, from station to station. What changes are the expressions decorating the faces of the passengers. Depending on the time of day or the intensity of the intruding sunlight these sometimes seem grey and tired but also can be lively and content.

Maybe one or the other musician contributes his part, turning the underground to his personal stage for a small spectacle, while clinching a small paper cup with his hands as he walks along the narrow alley asking for some jingling coins. If you use the same underground line on a daily basis you will eventually encounter familiar faces. The line 8 creates a rather particular setting.

Fellow travelers couldn’t be more different. On the way to Hermannstrasse you will meet Grossi. The time of day is never the same when he decides to get on somewhere between Rosenthaler Platz and Moritzplatz. He doesn’t have a ticket as many others riding the yellow vehicle. Always with the same rhyme on his lips he wanders through the wagons of the U8 hoping for some change from the other passengers. He quotes lines that originated from a kids’ book and go like this:

“Die Eintagsfliege, lieber Freund, die hat ein kurzes Leben/Zweimal zwölf Stunden sind ihr nur, auf dieser Welt gegeben/Besonders ärgerlich wird’s dann, was Fliegen oft begegnet/Wenn es an diesem einen Tag noch ohne Pause regnet.”

[The Mayfly, my dear friend has a very short life span. Only twice 12 hours is given to her in this world. Hence, it is especially maddening and not unusual, if on that particular day it will rain non-stop].

Grossi from Strollology Berlin on Vimeo.

At the end he will always say: “The applause is like a drug for me”

Almost everyone of these fellows has a story to tell, like Grossi, who actually goes by the name of Steffen Großmann and used to be a cabaret artist. Now he often is insulted as a bum. Drugs led him down to the underground tunnels. When Grossi gets off he always wishes his fellow travelers sun in their hearts. Most of them almost seem to sigh in relief, that he didn’t beg them for money. Many look to the ground avoiding eye contact when he or someone else asking for money, passes by. Most people don’t know how to react. They feel uncomfortable and that is why they look away, which is common for the undergrounds.

There is an unwritten set of rules that applies for traveling on the underground. Most actually follow them. You’re not allowed to ignore others but also not supposed to stare at them. During rush hours this is nearly impossible, as you barley find spots to look at and almost can’t avoid looking at someone stuck in your visual field. What helps in these moments is something that you can hold in front of your face like a newspaper or the ubiquitous smart phone. Almost diving into them, many travelers stare at their phones, not noticing anything happening around them, ignoring their environment. – An environment creating a small utopia, as all of the people taking part of it more or less peacefully create the underground world. This world couldn’t be more colorful and is a mirror to the metropolis of Berlin.

The reflection is pretty satisfying!

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